May 16, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 16, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Love for Yeshivot Hesder and Love for Full-Time Yeshivot

An Unnecessary Divide

I do not think Hashem is happy with the deep chasm dividing different groups of religious Jews in Israel. The gap has gotten so wide that rarely do the two camps interact. One of the major differences between the groups is whether aspiring talmidei chachamim should perform a limited form of Israeli army service in a yeshivat hesder (a five-year program in which students spend 16 months in the army).

Let us do our part in tearing down these unnecessary barriers and walls by embracing both the yeshivot hesder and the full-time yeshivot, such as Yeshivat Mir. We begin by outlining the basic arguments for both sides (a full presentation appears in my “Gray Matter” 1:152-162).

The Argument That Yeshiva Students Are Not Exempt From Army Service

The pro-hesder argument notes that yeshiva students do not appear on the list of military exemptions in parshat Shoftim (perek 20). The list includes one who built a new house, one who made a new vineyard, one who halachically engaged a woman, but did not complete the marriage and those afraid of battle. Parshat Ki Teitzei (Devarim 24:5) adds that a newly-married man is exempt from fighting for one year.

The Torah does not say that a yeshiva student may return home. The Gemara and Rambam similarly do not mention a yeshiva student’s exemption from military service. This omission indicates they must fight.

Moreover, the mishnah (Sota 44b) states that in the case of a milchemet mitzvah (an obligatory war), everyone must fight, even a groom from his room or a bride from her chupa — everyone goes. Therefore, even bnei yeshiva must go — as the Keren Orah (ad loc) notes. The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 5:1) includes defensive wars (“Ezrat Yisrael miyad tzar sheba aleihem,”) as a “milchemet mitzvah.” All of Israel’s wars are — therefore — classified as “milchemet mitzvah.”

Today’s Yeshivot Hesder

Congregation Shaarei Orah and the Jachter family had the privilege of hosting Rav Baruch Gigi — one of the three roshei yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion (one of the oldest and largest hesder yeshivot) — in June 2022 (I studied in the American program at “the Gush” from 1981-1983). His formal shiur about the direction of yeshivot hesder and informal conversation renewed my love and admiration for yeshivot hesder. In his shiur, Rav Gigi addressed not only the yeshiva students, but also the nation’s needs. In conversation, my sister asked him about his feelings about Tzahal (the IDF) beginning to include women in combat units. Rav Gigi responded that while he can arrange for hesder students to avoid being in such units, his concern extends to the broader national arena.

When attending the Etzion Foundation dinner that week, the same ethos prevailed. The concern for the nation and not merely for the religious Zionist sector is inspiring and sublime. Israel is in dire need of such idealism today. It cannot exist without it.

The yeshivot hesder’s contribution to Tzahal and the nation is significant, and even a game-changer. Yeshivot hesder were awarded the Israel Prize in 1991, for its contributions to the country. Today, 12,000 students learn in 70 yeshivot hesder and continue to punch way above their weight. Hebrew University’s Dr. Benny Porat (https://en.idi.org.il/articles/6526) explains the equity of hesder students serving 16 months — instead of the 32 months — of service expected of male Israelis. He notes that since all suitable hesder students serve in combat units, they “increase the quantity of combat service in the IDF.” Notably, Israel’s largest hesder yeshivot, Yeshivat Hesder Sederot (with 800 students headed by Rav Dov Fendel, originally from West Hempstead, Long Island), is located one kilometer from the Gaza border.

Arguments for Full-Time Yeshivot

In sefer Bamidbar — perakim one to two and three to four — our nation is counted. Strikingly, Levites are counted separately in perakim three and four — starting from one month and up. The others are tallied in perakim one and two, starting from 20 years and are described as yotzei tzava, those who serve in the army. Levites are not labeled as yotzei tzava, indicating their exemption from service (as noted by Rashbam to Bamidbar 1:47).

Rashi (Bamidbar 1:49) explains that Shevet Levi are counted separately, since they are Hashem’s legion. The Levites sustain the spiritual integrity of the nation, while the rest fight. Similarly, today’s full-time yeshiva students maintain our people’s spiritual integrity. Moreover, the Gemara (Makkot 10a) states that we win wars on the merit of the Torah learners. Accordingly, yeshiva students also serve in Hashem’s army, albeit in a different way. For this reason, they do not appear on the list of exemptions.

Today, there are approximately 100,000 full-time yeshiva students in Israel. Their fierce dedication to Torah learning is palpable — even from viewing brief videos — such as https://theedencenter.com/unlocking-meaning-behind-laws-mikveh-construction/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ3JbpEf67c&ab_channel=Yiddishetaam.

Israel’s outsized security, economic, scientific and even sociological success are miraculous. All rational explanations for it (such as those that appear in the classic “start-up nation”) fall short.

Upon sober reflection, Israel’s grossly disproportionate accomplishments stem from — in my opinion — the merit of its yeshiva students and those who facilitate their learning.

Zevulun’s business interests flourish from supporting his brother, Yissachar’s Torah learning. Israel has emerged as a de facto Yissachar-Zevulun partnership (even if some are kicking and screaming the whole way through). In the big picture, it is an enormous win-win for Israel. We would all benefit from recognizing and respecting this phenomenon.

Conclusion

Each Jew should have an outpouring of love for both the yeshivot hesder and the full-time yeshivot. Both contribute mightily to the stark miracle of the state of Israel. Both are indispensable to its continued existence and its continuing to thrive.

In June 2022, my younger son, Hillel, and I attended a shiur of Rav Asher Weiss in Jerusalem, for the first time. I was struck by seeing half of the audience wearing knit kippot and the other half wearing black hats. I thought this oasis of Torah unity offered a glimpse of the road to Mashiach. Each Jew must do his part of realizing a unified Jewish people, by loving and respecting the varieties of Torah Judaism. We can begin this glorious process, by embracing both yeshivot hesder and full-time yeshivot.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles